Riding the waves of seafood sustainability


by Eric Lequenne

Return of the fishing seiner after the catch

Traceability technology supports seafood safety, authenticity, and ESG efforts.

Has the moment ever been more critical for establishing and protecting the sustainability of the seafood industry? Much more than just a buzzword, the sustainability concept touches on virtually every aspect of the seafood production and distribution value chain. From ensuring food safety and quality to tracing the provenance and authenticity of a seafood product to safeguarding that fishing and catching conditions comply with regulations, laws, and sustainable/ESG best practices, seafood sustainability is in the eye of the storm. 

What is sustainable seafood? 

According to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and its counterpart for farmed fish, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which offers a widely accepted definition of sustainable fishing practices, sustainable seafood is defined as seafood that: 

  • Comes from sustainable fish stocks, i.e., there are enough fish left in the sea to reproduce indefinitely
  • Exacts a minimal environmental impact through fishing operations. Fishing must maintain the structure, productivity, function, and diversity of the marine ecosystem
  • Comes from sustainable sources, e.g., fisheries that comply with relevant laws and regulations

What is required for making seafood sustainable?

Making seafood sustainable will require that companies choose to source seafood only from certified sustainable, responsibly sourced outlets and sustainable fisheries. Across the seafood value chain, from fishermen and farmers to processors and traders, to restaurants and retailers, and indeed consumers, awareness will underpin improvements in the seafood industry that address seafood sustainability in all the ways listed above. That is, supporting certified seafood to ensure seafood safety, guarding against rampant seafood fraud, and safeguarding regulatory compliance and ESG activities.

Guard against seafood fraud

Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about the origin or type of seafood they are consuming. While mislabeling can happen accidentally, mislabeling happens more frequently to circumvent restrictions on fishing and selling certain species and to increase profits. This not only deceives consumers and costs them more money for the wrong or inferior seafood product, but it can also have negative consequences on human health and on overall marine conservation and aquatic protection endeavors. 

While not high atop most consumers’ minds, seafood fraud is a vast, global problem. Whether the fraud consists of the old “bait and switch” of seafood substitution (passing off a lower-value fish for a higher-value one) or intentional mislabeling, seafood fraud is rife because seafood is among the most traded food commodities globally, and seafood supply chains are complex and vulnerable to mislabeling.

An analysis of 44 studies found that almost 40% of 9,000 products examined from markets, fishmongers, and restaurants had been mislabeled.

The Guardian

Regulators, consumers, and the seafood industry as a whole have begun to demand better transparency, which is possible through traceability technology that can track and trace seafood throughout the supply chain to secure consumer trust in seafood safety and provenance, claim sustainable harvesting practices, and provide visibility with a more transparent supply chain.

Fish factory process

Ensure seafood safety

Climate change and marine sustainability concerns are bigger-picture drivers of long-term seafood safety initiatives. In the immediate and near-term, consumers expect to have access to safe seafood. In the longer term, seafood is seen as key to addressing hunger and malnutrition problems globally, and only through improvements in production, distribution, and equitable access coupled with the ecosystem and environmental efforts, will seafood be widely and safely available

Seafood quality and safety assurance depend on the ability to trace products, ingredients, suppliers, retailers, processing operations, and storage procedures throughout the entire supply chain. Ensuring food safety relies on being able to issue real-time alerts and recalls when food is suspected to contain organisms/bacteria, foreign objects, or major allergens that are not listed on the product label. Containing outbreaks and finding the source of the problem is contingent on traceability data (and traceability technology) that captures every link in the supply chain.

Prepare for compliance, ESG, and sustainability efforts

Safeguarding a future for seafood and mariculture more broadly will largely be driven by regulatory compliance imperatives and government mandates that relate to transitions in both the seafood industry and in Blue Economy development, as described by DNV in their recent Ocean’s Future to 2050 publication. Whether looking to comply with non-binding standards, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s guidelines, or binding regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the United States, traceability is one of the only ways to secure the required visibility into the entire supply chain.

While compliance is often a key driver for its implementation, traceability technology and the supply chain data aggregation it enables are critical tools for supporting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments, injecting transparency into a murky supply chain, and supporting and monitoring sustainable practices.

How is seafood sustainability technically possible? 

To achieve seafood sustainability, regulatory measures will likely need to be in place, brands will need to achieve compliance and get in line with increasing consumer demand to know where their food is coming from. While these principles for securing the future of seafood make sense, how can seafood sustainability actually be achieved – technically speaking?

Traceability technology for seafood

Resilient supply chains depend on creating end-to-end visibility at any scale. Traceability provides this kind of visibility by providing each product with a unique, digital ID and enabling tracking of the product’s touchpoints in the supply chain. The data harvested from and exchanged throughout this process enables the foundations of safe, sustainable seafood. 

The aim for participants and brands in the seafood supply chain should be to create a comprehensive digital footprint as a part of their seafood traceability endeavors, and the serialization and traceability technology to make this happen is already a reality.

Time for sustainable action in seafood

Sustainability has long been a watchword in the aquaculture and seafood industries. But taking real action to secure consumer safety, certify that seafood is genuine, validate compliance with regulatory initiatives, and make strides toward seafood decarbonization will not happen without the fundamental ability to implement traceability throughout the seafood supply chain.

Talk to us at the DNV booth at the 2022 North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) event, taking place in Bergen, Norway, June 21-23, 2022.

Contact us

Get in touch to discuss traceability technology and ESG efforts within the seafood industry

Eric Lequenne

Business Development Director Partnerships